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How did Black Friday get its name?

By Hillary Orinde | November 30th 2019

Have you ever wondered how Black Friday — the biggest sales event of the year — got its name?

It is largely an American tradition that follows Thanks Giving Day and traditionally kicks of the holiday season in the United States of America.

Thanks Giving Day, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, was set in stone by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939.

After feasting on turkeys, Americans spend their Friday and in recent times the weekend, to splash cash in the run-up to Christmas.

Shops in the US drop their prices for 24 hours.

The day sees a significant amount of shoppers head to stores and online brands in attempt to find the best deals.

Shoppers queue up, sometimes for days, to get their hands on a bargain.

The American phenomenon that has spread to the rest of the world is surrounded by a lot of myths on its origin.

Venezuelan shoppers look at products while shopping on Black Friday, in Cucuta, Colombia November 29, 2019. The tradition has spread to the rest of the world from the US where it began. [Reuters]

Celebrated this year on November 29, one of its darkest myth has resurfaced on the internet.

In numerous posts shared online, users claimed Black Friday originated from the sale of slaves after Thanks Giving.

“During Black Friday, slaves were sold at a discount to boost the economy. Hence Black (slaves were of African Origin) Friday (the day of the sale on that Friday in November),” one of the viral posts claimed.

This version of the origin understandably led some to call for a boycott of the event.

A screenshot of one of the posts calling for the boycott of Black Friday

The claim, however, has no basis in fact.

Individuals peddling the narrative claimed that one of the images supporting their claim was from 1904.

However, it is not clear when and where the image was taken and it further failed to account for the abolition of the slave trade.

One of the images widely shared to falsely represent Black Friday in 1904. [Courtesy]

Slave trade and serfdom was abolished in the United States in 1865. The law popularly known as the 13th amendment was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865.

A look at numerous history literature on Black Friday note that the origin has been obscured in the mists of time leading to the fanciful explanations.

One account that is widely accepted by the literature says the term is rooted in Philadelphia and is from the 1950s.

The account goes that police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving when hordes of shoppers flocked the town ahead of the Army/Navy football game on Saturday.

Philadelphia at the time promoted big sales and decorations.

This account is backed by numerous researchers including Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a neuroscience researcher at the University of North Carolina.

Bonnie told CNN in a 2014 interview that there was a push to rebrand the day as "Big Friday" in 1961.

He also debunked the claim the day was named after the day retail companies would become profitable for the year. Retailers used to record their losses in red ink and profits in black.

They, however, note the Philadelphia case was not the first the instance the name ‘Black Friday’ was used.

The term was used in a financial crisis when the US gold market crashed on September 24, 1869.

Two Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, bought as many golds as they could hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits.

When the scheme was discovered, the stock market went a free-fall and it was called Black Friday.

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